Julia and I are on a three-month long sabbatical from (more-or-less) the beginning of January until the end of March. It is NOT a holiday, let me hasten to add, but a time when we will be working hard six days a week to hopefully get the bulk of our doctoral theses written up. Every seven years Baptist Ministers are entitled to a three-month sabbatical but even so, we are immensely grateful to the Deacons and members of our church, Abbey Baptist Church, Reading, for allowing us this period of time away from all the busyness and burdens of pastoral ministry.
During this time we plan to take Sundays as our ‘day off’ from our studies and use the time to visit various churches in and around Reading. Most of these churches we will not have visited before. Some we have driven or walked past and they have intrigued us … others we are just simply ‘nosey’ and want to see what they are really like … others have been very kind and supportive of us since our arrival in Reading and we simply want to go and say a silent ‘thank you’. We also thought – given our love of food – that we could go to a morning Service wherever and then go and have lunch somewhere. Seems like a plan! We are not going away during our sabbatical but working from home (it’s where all our books are). In my spare moments – I will need a break from the computer – I plan to do a bit of French, pick up my guitar again, and get back to ‘blogging’. So … I thought blogging about our various ‘Sabbatical Sundays’ might be fun.
Last Sunday, the first Sunday of our sabbatical (we had to be at Abbey Baptist Church on the first Sunday in January for our annual Covenant and Motto Text Sunday) we visited St Giles-in-Reading (an Anglican Church in the High Church tradition) and then went on to the reasonably nearby Caversham Bridge Toby (a carvery in the traditional rugby scrum tradition) … and we thoroughly enjoyed both!
We have wanted to visit St Giles for ages. I confess that, in these days when we (who come from an evangelical and charismatic tradition) are constantly being bombarded with exhortation after exhortation about our need of the ‘new wine’ of the Spirit (Matthew 9:16,17, etc., etc), I was rather intrigued (not to say attracted) by a church that blatantly heralds itself as the ‘home of the old wine’. As something of an amateur wine connoisseur myself, I know that (in terms of wine drinking) an expensive mature wine is invariably better than cheap new plonk! I can’t help but also ponder if the sincere thought-through faith of the genuine, prayerful spiritual Anglo-Catholic is of more worth than the frothy, shallow, easy believism of many a touchy-feely evangelical charismatic? I say this as an evangelical (although not the American Trump-supporting type of evangelical) and as a charismatic (although more a ‘gifts of the Spirit’ embracing Pentecostal than an ‘endless singing of repetitive worship songs’ charismatic). ‘Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ (Revelation 3:7, etc., etc).
So last Sunday we went to the 10.30 a.m. Parish Mass at St Giles-in-Reading, an Anglican Church in the High Church or Anglo-Catholic tradition (more Roman Catholic than the Roman Catholics, one member of the congregation informed us afterwards) which is situated on Southampton Street, just outside the town centre. A Forward in Faith church, they reject the ordination of women to the priesthood, which made it of particular interest to Julia (although she has always been made welcome in such churches because Baptist ordination doesn’t count anyway as far as they are concerned?!).
St Giles is a ‘smells and bells’ church and we were tunefully welcomed by the rather pleasant call of the church bells as we walked from the Oracle Car Park to the church. Warmly welcomed at the door, given a hymn book and an Order of Service book and a Welcome leaflet, we found our way to a vacant pew – actually most of the pews were vacant when we arrived – but there must have been around 50 people present by the time the Service started. The Parish Mass followed the usual High Church pattern with the Rector and the Curate parading in preceded by the Cross Bearer, the Thurifer (swinging the thurible and fogging almost the entire church with clouds of pungent smelling incense – good for the chest we were again reliably informed afterwards), the Choir (all three of them, who immediately disappeared into the organ loft where they led the singing from), and numerous others who all had a part to play in the hour long Service.
The theme, it being Epiphany, was the Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17), and the whole Service (although very different to what we were used to) we found very enjoyable. The Rector, Father David Harris, a Canadian (who grew up Plymouth Brethren and whose brother is a Baptist Minister back in Canada) led the proceedings very ably with an equally pleasing resonant voice. The Curate, Father Sebastian Way, preached the sermon – it was only 5 minutes long but full of good content and very Christ-centred. The singing was good, the Bible readings and prayer of intercession were ably led by members of the congregation, and the Eucharist (or Communion) element was dignified and meaningful – with a rather pleasant full-bodied communion wine. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming – even when Julia let slip that she was the Minister of Abbey Baptist Church. I wouldn’t want to do it every Sunday – I’m too much of a non-conformist to be doing with all that pomp and ceremony and dressing up – but I would definitely visit St Giles again.
After an interesting chat with the Rector afterwards it was time for lunch and we found our way to the Toby Carvery by Caversham Bridge. It is many years since I visited a carvery, which is strange for me given my love of meat. It was packed but we managed to find a table in the bar area and then joined the queue at the service area. At a Toby Carvery you can choose a normal sized plate or a large sized plate – guess which one I chose. The staff serve you a generous amount of various choice meats and then you can help yourself to as many vegetables as you want. Neither of us actually managed to eat everything we loaded on to our plates although we both made a valiant effort. It was not exactly fine dining but it was good, and it saved Julia from cooking, and we will definitely visit a Toby Carvery again … maybe next Sunday … depending on where our next Sabbatical Sunday takes us?